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Refusing to love the sinner

Timothy Kincaid

January 3rd, 2014

I’ve long derided the glib phrase, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”.

First, I don’t think there is anything inherently sinful in homosexuality, especially lived in a responsible, mature and spiritual way. But that isn’t my objection; you can define sin however you like.

Believe me, growing up the son of a Pentecostal pastor, it seemed like most everything was either sin or right up next to it: movies, television, secular music, dancing, playing cards (but just the kind with clubs and diamonds, not the kind with old maids), boys going shirtless, boys and girls swimming together, and of course smoking and drinking and sex outside marriage. And if anything new came along, you’d better put it on the sin list just to be safe.

But those were ‘things Christians don’t do’, not things that you lobbied and tried to ban in Caesar’s realm. So if you want to think something is sin, by all means don’t do it. Just stay out of my life and my rights (and my Ketel One martini, dry with two olives).

No, my problem with the phrase is that it has mostly been a lie, a claim that was mocked by the actions of those making it. Never did I see much love directed toward the “sinner” and it seems that all the hate was directed not towards whatever sin was imagined that he engaged in, but rather toward the one who was imagined to be doing it.

Love the sinner? Fire him! Love the sinner? Take away her children! Love the sinner? Ban his marriage rights! Love the sinner? Bully her in the school hallways! Love the sinners? Don’t let them eat cake!

But Micah Murray, writing at Huffington Post, gives another reason why this trite phrase will no longer pass his lips. Murray still considers homosexual acts to be sinful, but he now sees that by focusing on the sin of gay people, you don’t see the people of gay people.

Sinner.

And despite all my theological disclaimers about how I’m just as much a sinner too, it’s not the same. We don’t use that phrase for everybody else. Only them. Only “the gays.” That’s the only place where we make “sinner” the all-encompassing identity.

Then we try to reach them, to evangelize them. We speak of “the gays” in words reminiscent of the “savages” from those old missionary stories — foreign and different and far away, the ultimate conquest for the church to tame and colonize and save.

Maybe we accept them in our midst. But even then, it’s sinners in our midst — branded with a rainbow-colored scarlet letter. They aren’t truly part of us.

Even that word “them” makes me cringe as I speak it, as if my brothers and sisters are somehow other, different from me.

It’s a special sort of condescending love we’ve reserved for the gay community. We’ll agree to love them, accept them, welcome them — but we reserve the right to see them as different. We reserve the right to say “them” instead of “us.” We embrace them with arms full of disclaimers about how all the sinners are welcome here. And yet, they’re the only ones we constantly remind of their status as sinners, welcome sinners.

And sadly, that is quite true.

I still find Micah’s position to be less than ideal. For all his efforts, it’s clear that he is still clinging to gay=sin. But I applaud his honesty and his desire to set aside the weights that hold him in a place of condemnation.

He is in an in-between place. But if more of conservative Christendom were in that place, my life would be easier.

Comments

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Tim L
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

My Hebrew professor in Divinity School used to say that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not biblically correct. He also used to say that we are what we do, not what we say. As a gay man I hate that phrase almost as I hate it when someone says something about my “lifestyle”…assuming that one of the most basic parts of who I am is a lifestyle…you know like playing baseball or collecting stamps. I have a deep faith and it is centered on grace and love. I just wish a few more so called Christians would starting having actions that are loving. My own mother told me how much she loved me right after she told me that my telling her I was gay (which she doesn’t believe) would be the worse thing she takes to her grave….and I felt the love.

TampaZeke
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

Excellent post Timothy!

Priya Lynn
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

Tim L said “He also used to say that we are what we do, not what we say. As a gay man I hate that phrase…”.

I agree with him 100%. What we do is not divorced from who we are, what we do springs from who we are. We are the sum of our behaviors.

Lord_Byron
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

I also hate that phrase because as Timothy pointed out that “love” is often shown by denying rights. Bob Newhart kind of illustrates this point for me.

“No one is denying them love or happiness. We are not denying love or happiness to the alcoholic by taking away his alcohol. We are not denying love or happiness to the drug addict by taking away his drugs. We are not denying love or happiness to the pedophile by keeping him away from children. In fact, we are showing true love to the sinner by denying him his disordered passions.”

Another example of said “love”. “repressed because it leads to such rank excesses” and that “[w]e do an injustice to our young when we suggest that homosexual unions are the moral equivalent of the heterosexual.”

I thoroughly reject the entire notion of sin. I mean the number of things considered sins is just outrageous and to me the system is just plain dumb. Why should it matter to some all powerful being what I eat or what I wear?

iDavid
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

It’s interesting that this guy is realizing the things he is realizing. I would think the more people accept to not discriminate against gay people, those very people who are “believers”, may take a look at the negative god they adore and mimic, and really start to question just how much damage the war god of Christianity has done to inflict evil and separatist values on almost every person on this planet. This in turn may turn people around to be more loving, the more they redirect their values on peace instead of war, which Christianity via a war god mentality, does not do nor never has done, to the chagrin of us all.

Paul Douglas
January 3rd, 2014 | LINK

Lord_B: Is the bolded quote from the actor Bob Newhart? The bolded portion in its entirety? I’m confused.

Stephen
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Take away the idea of sin and the American evangelical movement is left , literally, with nothing. The phrase is contemptible, allowing those condemning another’s life to feel self-righteous about it while at the same time relegating our emotional lives to mere acts of sex.

You might just as well say hate the ignorance but love the ignorant; hate the folly but love the fool; love the bigot but hate the bigotry.

Steve
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

It’s sad how much Christianity messes up people’s thought processes :(

TampaZeke
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Lord Byron, your comment is very confusing. Can you clarify?

Ben In Oakland
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

I wrote about this at huffpost. most of it didn’t appear, so it will right here, slightly improved.

_________________________

I’m glad you were finally able to see through the obvious lie that is “love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Now you have one more thing to see through: the other obvious lies that are dressed up in their finest Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes to give an ancient, vicious, and durable prejudice some sort of cover as “sincere religious belief”.

The lie that homosexuality is some sort of grievous sin, a sin so grievous that god destroyed entire cities to punish it, a sin so grievous that it is a “crime against nature, not do be named among Christians.” You can talk about murder and praise those who practice it (God and King David, for starters), you can talk about practitioners of adultery and incest and call them holy (David and all of the children of eve), you can talk about Deicide and torture, the gruesome suicide murder of your god, and even make a movie of sadoporn (Mel Gibson)…

but you cannot, absolutely CANNOT, talk about the marriage of two men who have shared decades together as life partners, because that might lead you to think too much about what they might do with their dangly bits in the privacy of their own bedroom.

You can show the brutal and grisly murders of innocent human beings by the thousands or millions, pretend its family entertainment, and call it Star wars.

But GAWD forbid you show two men kissing at their wedding. That’s just too much, innit?

You can tell us how much you love us, right before you explain how you just hate our disease spreading, gawd defying, nature againsting, sin promoting, child molesting, civilization destroying, marriage wrecking, military demoralizing, family endangering ways.

Really! How could anyone find hate in that?

I suppose I can thank you for your evolution. You’ve moved up from moralizing busybody to pond scum. Next stop: you can evolve into a lawyer, maybe a canon lawyer.

Or, you could have just asked a gay person what those hateful little words mean. They certainly don’t mean love, and usually the result of what they fantastically call “love” is completely indistinguishable from hate, at least if you’re on the receiving end of it.

What they mean is this: “I’m a bigot. Possibly a religious bigot, but that’s not really any kind of excuse. But I’m told that to be a ‘good’ Christian, I have to say things I really don’t mean. It sounds much better than saying what I really mean. You’re just a fag. you’re just a dyke. But by saying this crap about my ‘love’ which we both know doesn’t exist, I don’t have to admit to being a bigot. My self image and self deception is complete. I even got God fooled.”

No one says to the Koch Brothers, Joel Osteen,Pat robertson. Phil Robertson, or Eddie Long, “I hate your obscene amount of wealth, which Jesus spoke against, but I love you.” That “love” is reserved for gay people.

No one says to fornicating adulterous Newtie, or diaper Dave, or four times married but always childless Rush, “I hate your fornicating, divorcing, adulterous, non-procreational ways, but I love you.” Apart from an occasional, resounding “tsk. Tsk.” they frankly don’t care. That “love” is again reserved for gay people.

No one says to Jesus rejecting Jews, Jesus acknowledging but still denying Muslims, idol worshipping Hindus, or godless Buddhists, or even more godless atheists “I hate your Jesus-ain’t-my-lord ways, but I love you. (Please forget about all those wars in the name of god).” Again, that so-called love is reserved for gay people ALONE.

Here’s what we hear. You people are no better than terrorists, pig screwers, or drunks. (Phil Robertson and sally Kern). If we allow you to be married, god will kill millions. (Dan Cathy). It’s all your fault muslim terrorists murdered 5 thousand people. (Falwell and Robertson). You’re a threat to marriage, family, children, faith, freedom, humanity, and western civilization. (The Catholic, southern Baptist, and Mormon Churches via their political stooges and cultural lapdogs like Bryan fisher and Brian Brown). Letting you people lead your lives freely is just like slavery and the Klan. (Linda Harvey and Cardinal George).

We love you, because You give us someone we can feel superior to, and its totally safe, because there’s nothing worse than a fag, though lezzies can be really HAWT!

We don’t hate you. we just hate that you exist and we have to mouth words we simply don’t mean.

It’s a real burden.

James
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” has always rubbed me the wrong way. Sexual orientation is as much a part of who you are as the color of your skin. So imagine telling someone, “I love you as a person, it’s just the color of your skin that I hate.”

Ben In Oakland
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

James, that’s what mormons did until 1978, and what Baptist segregationists did for decades.

Lord_Byron
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Sorry about my post. I tried to close the tag, but apparently it did not take. The quotes from Newhart include the first two paragraphs bolded, but not the last.

“repressed because it leads to such rank excesses” and that “[w]e do an injustice to our young when we suggest that homosexual unions are the moral equivalent of the heterosexual.”

“No one is denying them love or happiness. We are not denying love or happiness to the alcoholic by taking away his alcohol. We are not denying love or happiness to the drug addict by taking away his drugs. We are not denying love or happiness to the pedophile by keeping him away from children. In fact, we are showing true love to the sinner by denying him his disordered passions.”

Timothy Kincaid
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Byron,

I believe that you are mistaken. Those quotes are not the words of Bob Newhart but rather from a homily by Fr. Augustine H.T. Tran of Duluth, Georgia. They were carried in Legatus Magazine.

Bob Newhart agreed to headline an event for Legatus. However, after being appraised of their anti-gay positions and activism, Newhart backed out of the event.

Lord_Byron
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

You are correct Timothy and I just re-read the article a little bit ago and admit that I was a little confused. I also realized that I had been mistaken. Sorry to those that thought Newhart had said those statements and I should have read it more thoroughly before posting that he said things like that.

Steve
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Well said Ben :)

All this BS talk about “love” is really just self-serving nonsense to make themselves feel better.

Ben In Oakland
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Thanks.

Timothy Kincaid
January 4th, 2014 | LINK

Byron, no problem. We all make that mistake from time to time

Micah J. Murray
January 5th, 2014 | LINK

Hi Timothy,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my HuffPo article.

I do want to point out that I don’t advocate for “gay=sin” as a viewpoint that Christians must have, though it is one that I had for most of my life.

I do, however, try to write in such a way that readers from across the spectrums of beliefs on sin are able to connect with that I’m saying.

Ray
January 6th, 2014 | LINK

Timothy, this is one of my all-time favorite BTB posts. It’s just speaks so deeply to my experience. Thanks.

Nathaniel
January 6th, 2014 | LINK

Byron,
For some, the thought that God cares so much about people that God gave them rules, even about what to eat and how to dress, is supremely comforting. While I am ambivalent about regarding as ‘sin’ things that lie between the ‘sinner’ and his god, I think most people agree that people hurting other people is sinful. That is why humans have always gone out of their way to dehumanize the hate-flavor-of-the-week, and why it is more important for LGBT people of faith to reclaim their humanity from their fellow believers than to convince them of the flaws in thinking of same-sex relationships as inherently sinful.

Steve
January 6th, 2014 | LINK

Hurting other people is bad. It’s not sinful. A sin, by definition, is a transgression of divine law. Hurting other isn’t bad because it’s against some god’s law, but because they suffer some sort of injury.

The whole concept of “sin” and the very term needs to disappear and be replaced by a real ethical system based on actual harm.

Priya Lynn
January 6th, 2014 | LINK

I agree wholeheartedly Steve.

Timothy Kincaid
January 7th, 2014 | LINK

Steve,

you are wrong about what is or isn’t sinful.

Though many non-churched (and many pew warmers) think of sin as disobeying an arbitrary list of divine rules, the term is actually much broader. A closer English word might be “wrong” or “err”.

There are many scriptural references to ‘sin’ being used as hurting other people. In fact, scripture uses the phrase ‘sinned against man’ to illustrate just that point.

Think of it as tort verses crime.

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